We took this idea from Matt. We recommend listening to this track while reading this blog:
This post is a tribute to the memory of a dear friend, Matt Carapiet who passed on April 25 in the Nepalese earthquake. There are reports today of a second earthquake in Nepal. Please consider making a donation today to help the native Nepalese people rebuild their country after experiencing so much loss.In early February of this year, Brandon and I boarded what backpackers in Southeast Asia call, “the nightmare bus." It’s a 24 hour journey on hairpin winding roads through the mountains of Laos on the way to Vietnam. The trip is long, exhausting, and frankly, boring. We had no idea what to expect, and after a night full of twisting and turning in the darkness of the Laos countryside, we arrived at the Vietnamese border. The fog was thick at sunrise when we were awoken and told to get off the bus. The buildings at the border were old, and under what looked like some slow moving renovations.
At customs, we were corralled into a group where a few natives pushed and shoved to get to the front of the line. All of the tourists were taken aback and confused, but we chuckled to each other to keep the situation light. Joining in mutual confusion, we met two funny British backpackers named Matt and Jas. We learned a lot about them in the short wait for the bus. Little did we know that our chance meeting would make such a difference in how the second half of our trip played out.
Matt and Jas are a few years younger than us and graduated last year with degrees in architecture. They had traveled together and apart, taking different routes at times, but meeting back up to tackle legs of their journey. They traveled on a small budget and were getting good at “roughing it,” regularly skipping hostels to camp and finding the hidden gems off the beaten path. They planned to be on the road until the end of this summer, at which time they were going home to begin their Masters.
Our first night in Vietnam, we settled into nearby hostels and had dinner with them. They had been to Hanoi before so they showed us some of the underground treasures they had found (particularly food related; for which I will always be thankful). We spent time exploring a place I had only ever heard about. We discussed the Vietnam War, our lives at home, the trials and tribulations of backpacking. We spent a few days together, just wandering and exploring as backpackers do.
After our time in Hanoi, we ran into Matt & Jas a few times as we made our way south in Vietnam. Our favorite meeting was one afternoon we literally walked into them on the streets in Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon). It was one of those the-world-is-massive-but-it’s-not-really type of moments. We were leaving at midnight that night, so we met up at our hostel's bar and sat on the front steps watching Vietnamese Tet unfold in front of us. We all talked about moving into Cambodia next and planned to keep in touch.
Brandon and I ended our trip in Cambodia. We chose an island in the south called Koh Rong. The island had a reputation as a paradise, but it was more expensive than we expected. It was hard dealing with our depleted budget. About five days into our visit, Jas and Matt showed up. I have great memories from the night they arrived, catching up on their travels and ours, lounging on chairs on the beach under the dark sky. I unfortunately was battling a terrible bout of food poisoning at that time and mid-conversation they got the pleasure of watching me get sick in the ocean. The subsequent conversations that followed were naturally, overshares. They sympathized with their own stories of food illnesses and offered meds. I considered that a bonding experience.
A day or two before they had arrived, Jas had sent a message to Brandon simply saying, “We have a proposition for you and Steph.” When they finally arrived and explained, I was so excited, assuming it probably involved some adventure. The boys told us about a secluded beach on the other side of the island where we could camp. The beach was accessible by boat or a 1-2 hour trek with steep cliffs. We had visited the beach a few days before via the trek, and weren’t planning to do that again. We hadn’t explored the beach much further than the typical tourist day-trip areas and the idea of going to camp in a more secluded area was exciting. They told us about stores in the main island village that would sell us military grade hammocks with bug nets. We could buy supplies, find some other friends to join and split a boat to take us there.
The next few days were some of the best days on our entire trip. We lived like beach bums in the harsh Cambodian sun. It actually reminded me a lot of “The Beach”. A bunch of characters from all over the world setting up camp in the middle of nowhere in paradise. We underestimated a lot in terms of supplies, but we survived. We set up our group of hammocks under a small gathering of trees with big red fruits that no one knew the name for, but acknowledged were most likely poisonous. We spent afternoons relaxing, prepping meals, and swimming in the crystal clear water. We argued about proper cooking techniques and how to keep coals hot in the sand, and yelled every time someone kicked sand in our food. We drank and smoked around bonfires at night, swam with bio-luminescent plankton, and invented makeshift games that had us all belly laughing for hours. We heard stories of cobras and encountered giant hermit crabs and scorpions. We lived simply; a few days feeling like we were no longer a part of the real world.
It was unspoken but there was an overwhelming sense of happiness and comradery among our group while we were on that beach. In a few short days, we had become a family. Matt and Jas had become our brothers. We all knew what we were experiencing was going to change the way we lived our lives and how we viewed the world.
When Brandon and I left, Jas came back with us to get more supplies for the rest of the group, who planned to stay a few more days. We had to head out and get back to the main land as our time in SE Asia was coming to a close. Watching our camp disappear in the distance, I looked back longingly.
As we flew home, Matt and Jas continued on. Thanks to social media we were able to catch glimpses of their activities since we said goodbye. When news of the 7.8 magnitude Nepalese earthquake hit on April 25, I thought carefully if any of our friends we had met might be in the region. My sister's friend Sierra was climbing Mt. Everest and was rescued within days, but not everyone was so lucky.
On Wednesday, the 29th a quick check of Facebook left my heart in my throat. Jas reported that Matt was missing in the Langtang region, a rural area in the heart of the Himilayas, and also the hardest hit area of Nepal. We called Jas briefly and he told us to hope that Matt had diverted his trek due to a knee injury. The region was virtually destroyed in a landslide, and rescue and recovery teams didn’t make it to the regions for days after the disaster. Matt’s family in the UK worked hard to draw attention to the need in Langtang and get foreign rescue teams to the area, and subsequently, many survivors and injured were rescued in neighboring villages. With little information about Matt’s exact whereabouts, family and friends knew the best scenario was that he was nowhere near Langtang. But it seems that was not the case.
Jas had been in another region at the time of the quake and was stranded in a refugee camp for a few days before being transported by helicopter to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. He said his intentions were to stay as long as he could help get more rescue efforts directed toward Langtang. When we hung up, we both acknowledged how terrifying this situation was, and how incredibly helpless we felt. All we could do then was hope and pray, and keep telling Matt to keep going, keep fighting and get back to us.
Throughout the following days, reports of survivors were limited. The photos and videos released of the devastation caused by the massive landslide and avalanche were powerful and terrifying. It was expected there would be over 200 confirmed deaths in the village, as recovery efforts were still ongoing. But we held on to hope. After over a week of waiting, Matt’s family reported via Facebook that Matt’s body had been recovered in Langtang. After a week of checking Facebook nearly every hour, I knew even before I checked the page what the message would say.
Over the weekend, we’ve both had time to grieve and we know it may only be the beginning of that process. Brandon and I flipped through photos and videos and chatted about the funny things that we all laughed over while we enjoyed our time in Southeast Asia. Matt was our little brother for a time. Brave, funny, intelligent, and just generally a fun person to spend time with. Although our time knowing him was short, the depth and importance of the experiences we had together makes it seem like much more. He wasn’t afraid of much and seemed to truly enjoy the simple life on the road he had created with Jas and for himself.
The reality of how fragile life is never fails to break your heart and open your eyes. The truth of the matter is that what happened to Matt could have happened to any of us. This world is full of risk and danger, but as travelers, I feel we’re more aware of it. We look it in the eye and make the decision to jump. I believe that for many of us, respecting our own mortality is why we travel. We know that we are as vulnerable while we aren't doing what we love as when we are out exploring the world.
Matt knew this. Matt respected this, as we all do.
When I saw photos of the pre-earthquake Langtang village and the valley Matt was planning to hike, I felt that pang of excitement. Sweeping walls of enormous rock capped with snow. I read stories from hikers who had recently visited the region, talking about the Nepalese villagers who welcomed foreigners into their tea houses and guest homes; helping them experience this incredible area like a local.
It is with great comfort that I imagine Matt on his final day living out the wonderful life of a backpacker. Getting prepared for his trek: Packing his bags, grabbing a bite to eat, and probably meeting new friends to make the trip with. Every day on the road is filled with possibility, and I hope his mind and heart were filled with anticipation and excitement, unsure what the day would bring.
He left our world on an adventure, and I am comforted that his spirit will forever be with others who are brave enough to do what he did. For the rest of us, we will continue to live with that bravery in our hearts, and Matt’s memory will fan the flames. We will continue doing the things we love and be ever aware of the beautiful, fleeting moments that play out in front of us. For Matt, we will go.
To Jaspal Channa: Jas, we are with you through this, even being worlds apart. We think about you daily and hope to see you again soon brother.
To Anne, Caroline, David, Vid, and any others who connected with Matt, please share your memories on this post. We'd love to collect them for his family.
You can see Matt's Tumblr here. It's filled with beautiful photos and writings by Matt about his travels.